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Academic Topics & Policies

Getting a great education is surely one of the reasons you’ve decided to attend McGill. There is a great deal to know about the education system at McGill, though. Read on to learn more about what else encompasses the world of academics at McGill. Remember that as a graduate student, your affairs are ultimately supervised by the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies office (GPS). The Graduate Program Director and departmental staff are intermediaries between you and GPS. For more information, visit the GPS website.

Research Ethics

McGill has very strict ethical guidelines for research. All research projects must have ethics approval before the research begins. Please consult the Ethics and Compliance website for details.

Academic Standing

Academic Standing is based primarily on students’ Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), which is calculated based on all of your course grade and Term Grade Point Averages (TGPA), which is calculated per term.
Academic Standing, which is assessed after the end of term, may determine if students will be allowed to continue their studies in the next term and if any conditions will be attached to their registration. Being in Satisfactory Standing usually requires having a CGPA of 2.00 (C letter grade) or greater. In graduate school, grading is different than when you were an undergraduate student and you must obtain grades of B- or better in courses used to fulfill program requirements.

Assistantships – Teaching & Research

As a graduate student, you have the opportunity to become a teaching assistant and/or a research assistant. At McGill, teaching and research assistants play a vital role in the educational process. Graduate assistantships are part of McGill funding and may be a part of your personalized funding package. Be aware that the elements of your funding package may change from year to year.


AGSEM is the Teaching Assistants and Invigilators Union at McGill. If you are hired as a TA or an invigilator at McGill, your union-specific questions and/or concerns should be directed to AGSEM.
Take advantage of the AGSEM workshops and information sessions that usually take place at the beginning of each term, in order to familiarize yourself with mechanisms of offering TAships in your program, instructors’ expectations, and your responsibilities as a TA. Check their events through SKILLSETS.

Academic Integrity

As a McGill student, you will have many assignments, papers, laboratory reports and/or presentations to prepare over the course of your studies. McGill University values academic integrity, honest work, the art of scholarship, and giving credit where credit is due.
Academic standing is also contingent on satisfactory annual progress reports. Receiving two unsatisfactory progress reports is grounds for withdrawal from the University. Students need to understand the Failure Policy.
Make sure you complete the mandatory Academic Integrity Tutorial, found in Minerva, before the end of your first term.
Please consult the Student Rights & Responsibilities website for two important online resources:

  • Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities: The University’s policies and procedures pertaining to upholding academic integrity, specifically the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.
  • Fair Play: This resource that clarifies academic integrity and citation styles with real-life scenarios. It is a helpful and interactive companion to the guidelines outlined in the Handbook.

If you need more information, you may contact the Office of the Dean of Students.

Course Load

The normal course load for a full-time student is different for each program. In some, it is the same as your undergraduate course load: 4-5 courses (12-15 credits) per term; a full year is normally 30 credits. In other programs, it may be recommended only to take one or two courses a term. Find out what is expected by speaking with your supervisor or Graduate Program Coordinator.

Course Evaluations + Add/Drop Period or Course Change

Conducted through Minerva, end-of-course evaluations provide valuable student feedback and are one of the ways that McGill works towards maintaining and improving the quality of courses and the student’s learning experience.

Add/Drop Period or Course Change

Add/Drop is a-two week period at the beginning of each term (summer term not included) that allows you to add and drop courses without having to pay for the changes. It is a great way to see if a class is for you or not. Remember to take into account your major/minor requirements and to buy books (and especially course packs) after your schedule becomes permanent!
Keep in mind, too, that the Add/Drop Period is when you should check to see if previously full classes now have openings.

Course Withdrawals

After the Add/Drop (Course Change) deadline in the Fall and Winter terms, there is a period of a few days during which you may withdraw with a grade of “W” and a full refund of course fees. After the Withdrawal (with refund) deadline, there is a period during which withdrawal from a course will also result in a grade of “W” but no course fees will be refunded.


Each course taken is assessed on the basis of a certain number of credits. Most half-year courses are worth 3 credits and full-year courses are worth 6 credits. In order to obtain a degree, you must successfully complete a minimum number of credits.

Grading System

Courses can be graded either by letter grades or in percentages, but the official grade in each course is the letter grade. Where appropriate, a class average appears on transcripts expressed as the letter grade most representative of the class performance.
Grades A through B- represent satisfactory completion, and anything below a B- is considered a failure.
If you see the following “mysterious” grades on your transcript and don’t have a clue what they mean, don’t worry, we have the answers! And yes, they are grades!

J:  You didn’t do all the work or skipped the final exam. This counts as an F in your GPA.
K:  Incomplete course, but the deadline has been extended for you.
L:  You’ve deferred your exam.
W:  You withdrew from the course after the Add/Drop Period, with permission (not in your GPA).


Minerva will calculate your GPA quite nicely, but if you’re detail-oriented and want to check it out for yourself, here’s how to do it: multiply the number of credits the course is worth by the grade points below. Do this for all your courses, add the numbers up, and then divide by your total course credits et voilà!

Letter Grade Grade Points Percentage
A 4.0 85-100
A- 3.7 80-84
B+ 3.3 75-79
B 3.0 70-74
B- 2.7 65-69
A mark below B- is considered a fail. You are allowed no more than two grades below B- or you will be asked to withdraw from your program.
C+ 2.3 60-64
C 2.0 55-59
D 1.0 50-54
F 0 0-49

The term grade point average (TGPA) is the GPA for a given term calculated using all the applicable courses at the same level in that term. The cumulative grade point average (CGPA) is the GPA calculated using your entire record of applicable courses at McGill at the same level.

What this does mean is that the fewer classes you’ve taken, the more impact each grade you get will have on your GPA. In your first year, this will make it seem like every class is so crucial, but remember that at the end of a four-year program, for instance, each class grade will account for only 2.5% of your CGPA. That means that even getting an F could only affect your CGPA by as little as a tenth point. In a 120-credit program, a B+/3.3 CGPA will only drop to 3.22 if you were to get an F.

Faculty/School & Department

Students at McGill are part of a faculty. Each faculty at McGill is headed by a Dean. Faculties are divided into departments and schools. Departments are devoted to a particular area of study, such as the Department of Philosophy or the Department of Chemistry. Professional Schools are part of a faculty, but offer more intense, specialized programs usually leading to a professional career.

Faculties and Schools include:
• School of Architecture
• Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
• Faculty of Arts
• School of Communication Sciences & Disorders
• School of Computer Science
• School of Continuing Studies
• Faculty of Dentistry
• School of Dietetics and 
Human Nutrition
• Faculty of Education
• Faculty of Engineering
• McGill School of Environment
• Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
• School of Information Studies
• Faculty of Law
• Desautels Faculty of Management
• Faculty of Medicine
• Schulich School of Music
• Ingram School of Nursing
• School of Physical & Occupational Therapy
• Faculty of Religious Studies
• Faculty of Science
• School of Social Work
• School of Urban Planning

Time Limitation

Master’s students
Candidates for master’s degrees must complete the degree within three years of initial registration. If the degree is pursued strictly on a less than full-time basis, it must be completed within five years of initial registration after which point you will be withdrawn from the University.

Doctoral students
Candidates for doctoral degrees must complete the degree by the end of PhD7. Please note if you were admitted after a master’s degree, you are normally considered to be PhD2 and not PhD1 (direct entry). Contact your Graduate Program Coordinator/administrator to confirm the number of years in which you must complete your program.

Students who have passed their time limit and been withdrawn can apply for readmission by completing and submitting the Request for Readmission webform only when they are ready to submit their thesis and will be charged fees for the term of readmission and any future terms of registration up to and including their term of graduation.  

The object of these regulations is to encourage you to complete your theses and qualify for your degree without undue delay.

For more information on time limitations, visit the Graduate Postdoctoral Studies website.

Degree Progress

You must ensure that you are aware of when you will reach the time limit for completing your degree requirements, and how enforcement of the Time Limitation Policy could affect you. As taking time away from your studies can affect your time to completion, you should also make sure you are aware of the policies and procedures concerning leave and vacation. If you wish to graduate in a particular term, you should make sure that you know about, and meet, the associated deadlines for degree milestones.

Progress Reports

McGill requires annual tracking of doctoral students’ progress toward their degree. The Graduate Student Research Progress Tracking Form is to be used during face-to-face meetings between the doctoral student, supervisor, and at least one other departmental representative. Having written agreed-upon expectations and clearly defined requirements aids in reduced times to completion and leads to fewer supervisor-supervisee misunderstandings.
Visit the Research Tracking website for more information and to download the form.

Registering for Courses from the School of Continuing Studies

To register for undergraduate courses offered by the School of Continuing Studies, you must apply directly through Continuing Studies. For more information, visit the School of Continuing Studies website.

Registering for Courses by the French Language Centre

To register for courses with the French Language Centre, you must:

  1. Obtain a permission memo from their department.
  2. Go directly to the French Language Centre with the permission memo.
  3. You will be given a Permit to Register for the course via Minerva.

Registering for Undergraduate Courses

In order to register for undergraduate courses (excluding School of Continuing Studies courses and courses offered by the French Language Centre), you must obtain approval from the department offering the course and submit a request for a Course Change.

Committees & Meetings

Ph.D. students must have a supervisory committee consisting of at least one faculty member in addition to the supervisor(s). The supervisory committee must provide, on a regular basis, guidance and constructive feedback on your research. Your supervisory committee, therefore, provides a valuable resource that helps your ensure success in the program.

Comprehensive Exam

Comprehensive Exam is one of the major requirements of a PhD degree. The criteria of evaluation are tailored differently for each school and department. Check your departmental website under the graduate segment to inform yourself about the exam format and time frame to meet the requirements. You may also want to talk to your Graduate Program Coordinator about any questions you have about your comprehensives.

Career Development / SKILLSETS

It is encouraged that all graduate students take part in SKILLSETS, a suite of workshops providing general, transitional, and professional skill development opportunities. Visit their website and mark your calendar for their events and workshops early in the term.
Career Planning Service (CaPS) also offers workshops tailored towards graduate students throughout the year.

Midterms and Exams

During the term, class tests/midterms in any course must be held during the time duly scheduled for that course in your course syllabus. Midterms can be held throughout the term so there is no real “midterm season”.
Formally scheduled final exams are three hours long. Unless given the choice, you cannot be asked to write a final exam worth more than 75% of your final grade. No final examination can be scheduled in the last 14 calendar days of classes (Excludes: oral examinations, assignments given in the syllabus (e.g., paper, presentation) and regular in-term assessments, so long as it is not worth more than 10% of the final mark).
A tentative exam schedule goes up early in the term, but do not make travel plans based on this schedule. It’s rare for the final schedule to be the same as the tentative one, so it’s wise to wait to make bookings (unless you have cancellation insurance or know you can make changes). For the Fall and Winter terms, the Tentative Exam Schedule is posted approximately the fifth week of each term, and the Final Exam Schedule in two weeks after that. If you miss an exam for a serious reason, such as illness or family affliction, and you have supporting evidence (such as a doctor’s note), you may be allowed to defer the exam to the next Deferred and Supplemental Exam Period (with the exception of courses given by the Faculty of Engineering. Deferral exams for these courses are written the next time the course is offered). In some cases, students receiving a failing grade in courses offered by the Faculties of Arts or Science may apply for a Supplemental Exam.
For more information visit the Exams website.


Required courses are mandatory courses that must be completed to fulfil the requirements of a program (e.g., specific courses at the graduate level), unless the student receives exemptions. Students have no choices among required courses.
Complementary courses are selected from a restricted list, a particular subject area, or a discipline. In some programs, students must include a number of these to meet program requirements.
Elective courses are, in some cases, taken outside of a student’s program of study and do not count toward the fulfilment of the specific program requirements. Some restrictions may apply, but students have the most choice in selecting elective courses.


Prerequisite courses must be completed prior to course registration.
Corequisite courses must be completed concurrently with another course.

Study Break / Reading Week

Similar to Spring Break, here at McGill University we have Study Break / Reading Week in the Winter term where classes are cancelled for an entire week. Whether you choose to study or fly to Cabo is up to you...


Equivalent to “semester,” here at McGill we have Fall (September-December) and Winter (January-April) “terms,” which are four months long, and three Summer terms (May, June, July), which are each one month long.

MA1, 2, PhD1…

This letter and number system speaks to your academic standing at McGill, in respect to how many years you have completed or have remaining.

Student IDs

Beyond telling the world that you are now an official McGillian, your Student ID card gives you access to essential services on campus, such as the library, labs, athletic facilities, residences, cafeterias, and more. You can also use it to prove your student status at any location in and around Montreal offering student discounts!
To get your first and any replacement cards ($25), visit Service Point (and/or Laird Hall for those of you on the Macdonald Campus).

Preferred Name

The university recognizes that as a community many of its members use first names other than their legal first names to identify themselves. Students can add a preferred name to their record using Minerva. Your preferred name will then appear on your Student ID card and other university documentation. Here’s how you do it:

  • Go to Minerva
  • Select “Personal Menu”
  • Select “Name Change”
  • Enter your Preferred First Name


Your syllabus (plural: syllabi) is the written course outline you get from your professor during the first week of lectures.
This information should include, in part:

  • A description of the topics to be considered in the course,
  • A list of required and recommended readings and other materials,
  • A description of the means of evaluation to be used in the course,
  • The instructor’s office hours for students, office location and telephone number for office appointments,

No syllabi can be changed following the first day of class without unanimous approval from the entire class, unless reasonable accommodations are made to those students who disagree with the changes.


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